Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive incurable neurodegenerative disease of the brain afflicting a third of the population aged 85 and older. Pathologic hallmarks include extracellular plaques of amyloid-beta (Aß), intraneuronal neurofibrillary tangles of hyperphosphorylated tau protein, synaptic destruction, neuronal death, and brain atrophy. Neuroinflammation, mediated by microglia, is a central component of the disease, and is intricately connected with peripheral inflammation. The clinical manifestations include progressive memory loss and eventual death. The present treatment of AD is largely ineffective. Nearly all AD is late-onset and presents age 65 or older, and the most common genetic risk factor is carriage of an apolipoprotein (APO) E4 allele, seen in about 25% of the general population. Individuals carrying an APOE4 allele produce more Aß and clear it less efficiently from the brain throughout life. There has been accumulating pathologic and clinical evidence that microbes, particularly the herpes simplex virus (HSV), is a causative factor for AD, most notable in carriers of the APOE4 allele. Eighty percent of the adult population harbors HSV and it resides in the trigeminal ganglion in latent state throughout life, but periodically reactivates, traveling antegrade resulting in herpes labialis and traveling retrograde into the brain leading to neuroinflammation. Functioning as an antimicrobial peptide, Aß inactivates HSV and the recurring process culminates in a buildup of Aß plaque and other hallmarks of AD over time. Periodontal disease exists in 20-50% of the adult population and is also a causative factor for AD. Accordingly, bacteria causing periodontal disease and their byproducts can enter the brain directly via the trigeminal nerve or indirectly through the bloodstream, resulting in AD pathology over time. There are many other promoters of AD, particularly inflammatory conditions outside of the brain, that can be mitigated. Small trials are finally in progress testing antimicrobial drugs for the prevention and treatment of AD. In the meantime, a more proactive approach to the prevention and treatment of AD is posited, with an emphasis on prevention, since the pathologic underpinnings of the disease start decades before the clinical manifestations. Individuals can be stratified in risk categories using family history, periodontal disease presence, APOE4 carriage, and HSV IgG positivity. Moderate- and high-risk individuals can be treated safely with various preventive measures and appropriate antimicrobial agents as discussed. Importantly, the proposed treatments are concordant with the accepted practice of medicine, and if utilized, could significantly decrease AD prevalence.
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